A forest can regrow if it is taken care of

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           One of the most pressing issues in Mongolia is reforestation and afforestation. According to the survey conducted by Green Planet-Green Future NGO of Mongolia, forests accounted for 12 percent of Mongolia's total territory in 1991, and declined sharply to 8.2 percent (or 12.9 million hectares) in 1998. As of 2015, Mongolia lost another 1.4 million hectares (or 7.1 percent). It is estimated that about 42 percent of Mongolia's forested areas were destroyed in the last 25 years.

Forest-steppe zone

Mongolia is located in a region with a harsh climate, which collides with the climate of Siberian taiga and desert climate of Central Asia. Therefore, the biological capacity of forests in Mongolia is very limited and it is vulnerable to forest fires, human activities and pests. This is because Mongolia has a year dominated by Siberian taiga climate and Central Asian steppe climate. When Siberian climate dominates in Mongolia, the climate is humid and rainy, whereas Central Asian climate causes atmosphere to become arid.

Forests need to regenerate naturally, and it germinates itself and their seeds fall to the ground, creating new saplings. Coniferous trees, which cover 74 percent of the country's forests, are planted once every five to six years. This is called the "great seed year." However, unless this "great seed year" coincides with the aforementioned Siberian climate, all of the seeds will not be able to grow. Most importantly, according to researchers, the probability of overlapping with this favorable climate occurs in Mongolia once every 10 to 15 years. In this regard, it can be concluded that the forests of Mongolia are “transfused with blood” by new saplings one every 10 to 15 years. In the Siberian taiga, saplings are formed every two to three years.

If a forest is destroyed by fire, it takes 150 years to get back to normal. An example of that is the large-scale wildfire that destroyed many hectares in Mongolia in 1996, in accordance withpicking deer antler that was allowed. This is a mountain near Shadivlan, Ulaanbaatar. Today there is no trace of a forest, and a few trees can be seen there.

Therefore, instead of waiting for nature to regenerate itself, we need to conduct deliberate rehabilitation, or afforestation, regularly.

What if there is no forest?

The most important role of forests is the collection and storage of water. Most rivers in Mongolia originate from forests. Therefore, if forests are destroyed, Mongolia will be the first country to face water shortages. In the 1950s, timber was mined from Khentii Mountains, the source of Tuul River, and was drifted along Tuul River to Ulaanbaatar. It was a free shipping method. The elders say that this activity lasted for 10 years. Tuul River was so big and flowed fast enough at the time to allow such a transportation method. Today, however, the flow has deteriorated. The reason is directly related to the destruction of trees in Khentii Mountains. If the problem continues, we need to keep in mind that if not for us, our children will not have access to drinking water.

In addition, ecological issues have a chain structure that arises from each other. Therefore, it is important to understand that there are many hidden problems behind a seemingly singular ecological problem. If there is no forest, there will be no living plants to produce oxygen, which will cause drought and desertification. As a result, there will be deficiency in the agricultural sector and a lot of damage to the economy.

Is afforestation effective?

The minister of environment and tourism issued Order No.A-146 on April 2, 2015 to launch the One Million Tree Movement across Mongolia. Commenting on the results of this work,  Head of the Forest Policy and Coordination Division of the ministry Ts.Banzragch said, “We have planted 1,250,000 trees in 2015. It is estimated that there will be one million trees left when the destroyed trees are accounted. And over the last five years, we've planted about six million trees, and more than five million are growing.”

However, has the effort of the past five years been enough compared to the amount of forests and trees that have been destroyed? It is definitely not. It is estimated that 2,500 to 3,000 seedlings can be planted per hectare during afforestation. The five million trees planted through various efforts is only about 2,000 hectares of reforested.

In addition, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism reports that about 800 hectares are rehabilitated and reforested with state budget annually in provinces. Based on this information, it means that afforestation has been carried out in 21 provinces on an area of ​​16,800 hectares per year, which is about 84,000 hectares in total in a span of five years. Excluding losses, the total area of afforestation in five years is 86,000 hectares. This is only 16.2 percent of the 1.4 million hectares destroyed since 1998.

What is important for effective afforestation?

Article 31 of the Forest Law of Mongolia states, “Every citizen is obliged to plant one tree and every organization is obliged to plant five trees per year”. What if governmental and non-governmental organizations operating in the nation fulfill this obligation without the need to be forced, and take an active part in this work on their own initiative?

Forests expert Dr. O.Odgerel said, “State policy is most important in this work. It is almost impossible to reforest effectively without government participation. This is a job that requires a lot of asset and funding. The most important thing is that the government should have a detailed systematic policy. The first thing the government should do as a policy is to build more orchards, or to support individuals and businesses that have established orchards to operate. After that, it is important to provide them with knowledge on how to grow seedlings. If it is possible to provide loans to individuals to build afforestation sites and then purchase each of the seedlings, people will begin to participate in this work. That way, we can restore the destroyed forest.”  

Mongolia needs to take a proactive approach in restoring forests, rather than mourning for what we have already lost. Nature, especially forests, is a living organism that can be regenerated if it is taken care of. Let's work together to secure a future for ourselves and the generations to follow by planting trees.

Misheel Lkhasuren